Sosua Dominican Republic
Travel Story Republicana Dominicana
Sosua Dominican Republic: Travel to the area's wonderful beaches and resorts, among the most popular Caribbean holiday destinations, draws visitors not only from North America, but from Europe as well. Most tourists come to escape cold northern winters, but there's a steady stream of travelers during the other seasons, too. Many day trips are available year round.
Day Trip Dominican Republic ~ From Sosua Beaches to Santiago Waterfalls
It's not surprising to be seduced by the Dominican Republic's warm, crystalline ocean waters edged with beaches of baking sand, stretching out under marshmallow clouds that go bouncing off mountain tops, while the requisite palms sway in the breeze.
What is surprising is how rapidly that seduction occurs, and how insidious its effect. All too quickly, you'll find yourself homeward bound, having seen nothing of this wonderful country.
So, tear yourself away from the golf course, brush the sand off your suit, and go on an excursion. You'll discover this multifaceted country is a lot more than just another pretty tropical face.
At least, that was my experience on a summer's week in Sosua, near Puerto Plata and Playa Dorada on the north, Atlantic, coast. I could have happily spent the entire week coated with a gallon of sunscreen, floating on the gentle waves, leaving the water just to eat, drink and sleep.
But at the end of the second day, I realized I was fast becoming victim to the enervating bliss that strikes visiting northerners, and hauled myself out of the surf and headed for the tour desk, to see what life existed outside the resort.
In the Dominican Republic
I soon found out, fewer tours operate during the summer, but those that do often charge lower rates. So though I couldn't spend the entire day exploring the capital, Santo Domingo, on the south, Caribbean coast, I saved money on a trip to the mountains around Santo Cerro, Santiago and Jarabacoa, a part of the island that has Christopher Columbus' footprints all over it.
And so, the next morning at the crack of dawn, a small tour bus pulls up to the hotel and off we go, heading west towards Puerto Plata, and picking up a scattering of fellow day trippers at Playa Dorada before heading inland across fields thick with golden sugar canes ripe for harvesting.
Then the highway climbs past roadside shacks roofed with tin, some only a few feet from the roar of passing trucks, buses, cars and motorbikes, a dramatic change from the leisurely pace of the resorts.
Hey! There's a real world out here. Flame trees flash with crimson, mangos droop from heavy limbs, and soaring palms mingle in a forest canopy so lush, it obscures the ground below. Occasionally, the foliage thins out, offering a glimpse of mountains across a wide valley.
At the crossroads town of Navarete . . .
. . . the driver turns to southeast, heading for the old colonial city of Santiago, with its lofty monument to Trujillo, bustling streescape, and its cigar factory, where a few of the gentleman, and even fewer of the ladies, happily puff on freshly-rolled cigars, while the rest hunt through the gift shop or chat over coffee in the airy cafe.
A-buzz with nicotine, caffeine and sugar, we're off to Jarabacoa. The road narrows, the pavement only two lanes now, not four. The grade steepens sharply, making ears pop from the height, and taxing the little tour bus, until the driver turns off the air conditioning to help it along.
Here and there among the sparse pine trees on the mountainside, we see the summer cottage retreats used by city dwellers from Santo Domingo and Puerto Plata. This area is known as the Dominican Alps, we are told, replete with these chalets and walled estates that offer respite from the lowland summertime heat.
The red sandy soil . . .
. . .dotted with calla lilies, bougainvillea and hibiscus in bloom herald the commercial flower-growing fields to come. At least one U.S.-based airline makes daily trips direct to Santiago to pick up its cargo of fragile cut flowers. And more than cut flowers, the area is the breadbasket for much of the country, supplying fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as sugar cane and tobacco, to be made into rum, and cigars.
We stop for a buffet lunch at Rancho Baiguate, a mountain resort that serves as a meeting place for those trekking to the waterfalls, or those who opted for white-water rafting down the Rio Yaque del Norte. The latter group is definitely younger and fitter-looking, more like the cast of Friends with life jackets. Me? I''m going to the falls, but on horseback, not in the open back of the 20-passenger 4WD.
Crossing the wooden foot bridge over pond, we join a dozen or so youngsters, all boys, who are holding the reins of the horses we will ride to the falls trail head. Dominican horses, it appears, are sized more like North American ponies and we larger, economy-sized visitors wonder if their slender legs are up to the job, especially when the boys swing themselves into position behind each of us. Tiny horse, two riders. The boys keep hold of the reins, urging the horses onto the trail.
In the spirit of good fellowship . . .
. . . I urge future trail riders to take a moment to first adjust the stirrups. The experience of bouncing along a horse while holding a back pack in front of you whilst your knees are nearly level with your hips is a little disconcerting, particularly when the horse lowers its head to pick its way down hill.
In rapid succession, a series of newspaper headlines announcing a tourist's (well, mine) untimely demise after falling head first off a pony then being trampled flashed through my mind. I could imagine friends, on learning the news, saying, with a tone of disbelief in their voices, "She died HOW?"
But once the boys agreed to slow the horses to a more sedate pace rather than outpace one another, we visitors relaxed, and enjoyed the trail ride through woodlands and small streams, up hills and down, chatting in Spanglish with our escorts for the 15 or so minutes it took to reach the start of the walking trail.
Dismounting onto legs that trembled, and very thankful not to have fallen ignominiously from the saddle even once, we visitors all over tipped our little escorts. But, we reasoned, after hauling us, and all our gear, they'd likely need extra money to buy new horses.
A 10-minute walk along a series of gravel paths and stairs ends at the pool at the base of the Rio Baiguate falls. On a hot Caribbean afternoon, this cool, dark green pool is heaven-sent, and we wade and splash for a half hour or so. Some did bring along swim suits, as suggested, and swam across the pool to take a shower under the falls.
Retracing our steps is not nearly as much fun, but the promise of cold drinks at the top keep us going. All of us riders opt for the jeep ride back to the bus, and the boys, and horses, released from their loads, raced gleefully behind us, huge grins on every face.
We reach Iglesias Las Mercedes . . .
. . . near Santo Cerro in late afternoon. The church overlooks the Cibao Valley. Inside the church is the Santo Hoyo -- the Holy Hole. This is the exact spot, legend has it, where Christopher Columbus planted a wooden cross given to him by Queen Isabella. Years ago, goes the story, when local Indians tried to burn the cross, it wouldn't burn. Instead, an image of the Virgin appeared on one section, and the Indians fled.
From the expansive forecourt in front of the church, we drink in the panoramic views to Puerto Plata, and the sea beyond. Our route back to the coast takes us along the crest of the mountains we had seen earlier from across the valley.
The land drops away sharply on either side of the narrow paved ribbon that winds ever downward, passing the entrance to one of the area's amber mines. The lush vegetation -- all tall palms and drooping vines -- seems right out of Jurassic Park.
Indeed, according to the movie, it was Dominican Republic amber that yielded the dinosaur DNA that predicated the plot. However, Dominican amber originated about 10 million years after dinosaurs became extinct. All along the road, vendors selling baseball-size balls of homemade cheese piled into pyramids sit at rickety-looking wooden tables or squares of cloth spread on the shoulder.
All too soon, we're down the mountain and recrossing the cane fields to be delivered to our respective hotels, and the promise of a good dinner. But first, we need our daily fix of tropical lassitude: There's still time for a sunset swim!